St. Lawrence County seeing big uptick in sexually transmitted diseases
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
Confirmed cases of syphilis and gonorrhea have more than tripled since 2014, according to St. Lawrence County Public Health officials.In 2014 just three cases of syphilis and 12 cases of gonorrhea were confirmed in the county, but in 2018 10 cases of syphilis and 41 cases of gonorrhea were verified.
Since the first of January, six cases of syphilis have been reported this year.
While those numbers may seem low, health officials say the fact they are rising is a serious concern. That’s because the number of confirmed cases is always lower than the number of actual infections.
To help reduce the spread of such infections, St. Lawrence Count Public Health offers free discreet testing. Health officials said the stigma associated with STD’s can be a deterrent to people getting tested.
“Sometimes people are uncomfortable of testing and don’t want to share their concerns with their primary provider. There is a level of embarrassment sometimes and we try to ease that,” she said.
“We don’t bill insurance and we don’t charge for testing,” Communicable Disease Coordinator Rochelle Pratt, RN said.
Public health has been working with providers to get doctors who treat people diagnosed with chlamydia to also prescribe treatment to their partners without a visit.
“If you treat the person diagnosed and you do not treat the partner they are going to re-infect themselves,” she said.
Pratt says she believes declines in education programs have led to a decrease in the use of condoms, which may be contributing to higher infections.
The number of people using protection has gone down. “There used to be a push for education about condoms and I think that has sort of lightened over the years,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, syphilis is an STD that can have very serious complications when left untreated, but it is simple to cure with the right treatment.
The bacterium is spread though vaginal, anal and oral sex. It’s divided into three stages with primary and secondary being the most infectious stages of the disease.
Without appropriate treatment, long-term infection can result in severe medical problems affecting the heart, brain, and other organs of the body, according to the CDC. Having syphilis also makes it easier to get HIV.
The disease is also disproportionately seen in gay and bisexual men, according to the CDC.
“Gay and bisexual men are experiencing rates of syphilis not seen since before the HIV epidemic. Between 2016 and 2017, 58% of primary and secondary syphilis cases were among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, and data suggest that an average of half of gay and bisexual men who have syphilis are also infected with HIV,” the CDC says.
Health officials in St. Lawrence County also reported seeing higher instances of infection among gay and bisexual men. Instances of infection also tend to be higher among drug users.
Pregnant women with syphilis can give the infection to an unborn baby. Having syphilis can lead to a low-birth-weight baby. It can also make it more likely for an early delivery or a stillborn, according to the CDC.
It is recommended that all pregnant women be tested for syphilis at least once during pregnancy.
An infected baby may be born without signs or symptoms of disease. However, if not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks.
Untreated babies can have health problems such as cataracts, deafness, or seizures, and can die.
Gonorrhea is also on the rise in St. Lawrence County. It can infect both men and women in the genitals, rectum, and throat.
According to the CDC, sexually active men who are gay, bisexual, or have sex with men, should be tested for gonorrhea every year. A sexually active woman younger than 25 years, or an older woman with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection, should be tested for gonorrhea every year.
For men symptoms can include white, yellow or green urethral discharge. Testicular pain is also possible.
According to the CDC most women do not have symptoms from gonorrhea. Untreated, the infection can lead to permanent health problems for men and women. For women it can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease.
Although the infection can be treated, the CDC reports that the bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics and that treatment options are becoming more limited than they once were.
Pregnant women can also pass the infection to their babies as they passes through the birth canal during delivery. It can cause blindness, joint infection or a blood infection.
St. Lawrence County also continues to see a significant number of cases of chlamydia with 313 infections confirmed in 2018. In 2014 336 were confirmed. Although the instances of chlamydia are not rising, it continues to be far more common than syphilis or gonorrhea.
It is the most highly reported STD in the United States, with significantly more women infected than men.
Anyone who has sex can get chlamydia through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. However, sexually active young people are at a higher risk of getting chlamydia. This is due to behaviors and biological factors common among young people. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are also at risk since chlamydia can spread through oral and anal sex, according to the CDC.
It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, according to the CDC. This can make it difficult or impossible for a woman to get pregnant later on. Chlamydia can also cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy.
It can also be passed to a baby during delivery. This could cause an eye infection or pneumonia in the newborn. Having chlamydia may also make increase chances of delivering the baby too early.
Symptoms for both men and women include discharge and a burning sensation when urinating.
For more information or to set up an appointment for testing call 315-386-2325.